Where There’s a Will, There’s a … Way?
We’ve all heard that phrase before: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It may come in other forms too, like, “You can do anything if you want it badly enough,” “Mind over matter,” or “Just put your mind to it.” It may even take on a more spiritual connotation, as in “Just have more faith.”
The central meaning of those phrases is that willpower and faith should be exactly what you need to get through anything – addiction, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, health concerns, weight management, injury recovery, or even that enormously stressful situation at work or school. The problem is that the solutions to such life challenges are rarely found in simply wanting and fighting to get through a moment. In other words, willpower is not enough.
Before we throw out the idea of willpower completely, though, let’s remember that even if it is “not enough,” that does not mean that it is trivial or pointless. There’s certainly a place for it. We must start somewhere. Mentally, we do have to commit our will to an idea to start to make it happen. We do have to desire change and have the willingness to apply effort to recover from addiction, to improve our health, to heal our relationships, to finish the big project, or to get the new job. It doesn’t just magically happen. In addition, the human spirit has an immeasurable potential to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges – especially when survival is at stake. In that sense, where there’s a will, there’s definitely a way.
White-knuckling is not necessary; Use tools, support, and understanding.
Willpower is insufficient is when we attempt to do (or recover from) the hardest things in life in the long-term without tools, support, and understanding of what we’re really facing in the extreme mental and emotional aspects of our human experiences. This is holding on as tightly as we can to simply not fall off the ride.
This is “white-knuckling” our way through. We naturally know how to do this because it’s built-in to our survival instincts. But it’s temporary and exhausting.
A bull rider who’s feeling strong, confident, and well-trained is going to find some brief success in sitting atop that prize-winning, aggressive
bull for a few seconds, but sooner or later the rider’s strength fades – or he gets thrown off – and the white-knuckling comes to an end. Even if the rider is victorious after 8 seconds, he knows the bull is always going to be stronger. The rider must eventually learn to walk away from the battle of wills, knowing that it can’t go on forever.
Willing our way through each day or each difficult moment, wondering if this time, we’ll make it through, is not an enjoyable way to live. What else do we need so that we are making real, lasting progress beyond applying our will in such a temporary, fleeting way? Let’s go back to the 3 basic ideas that were already mentioned – tools, support, and understanding our experience – to learn about some of the helpful components of healing and progress that go way beyond willpower.
Tools are resources that we can use to facilitate a task or make a task easier. They leverage our natural abilities or strength to enable us to do more than we could do naturally. We naturally seek to survive, avoid pain and seek pleasure. There are tools that can help us achieve a balance between these instincts to implement what is really in our best interest long-term. With the help of tools like learning to manage thoughts, applying mindfulness/meditation, recognizing cognitive distortions, defining our emotions and their purpose, and having awareness of triggers, we can move toward meaningful, sustainable progress. These are some of the key benefits of individual and group therapy.
Our friend, the bull rider, always seems to do better when he has a crowd of people cheering him on. That is no coincidence.
We all do better when we have support. Joining in a relationship with a therapist is one of the most important factors for success in therapy. Healthy relationships with our loved ones are also an integral part of long-term solutions. Support from our relationship networks brings
accountability, openness, mutual trust, a sense of belonging and acceptance, and encouragement. All of these elements can reduce our reliance on individual willpower.
Understanding Our Experience
The unknown is uncomfortable and scary, especially if we feel we are alone in experiencing the unknown. It can be helpful to be able to define and make sense of what we are living – to “wrap our head around” the situation. This can be as simple as learning more about processes of the brain, the purpose of emotions, how addictions or other unwanted behaviors form. It can even be applying a diagnosis with the help of a professional. Enduring difficult life situations are painful and distressful. It’s empowering to learn that you are facing something real, definable, and treatable. Reach out to those who can help you to gain that understanding.
Bottom line: there is hope that goes way beyond willpower to help us to move past the difficult mental and emotional challenges of life. We’re here for you as you seek healing.
Your healing may be simple and basic or it may need a more involved approach like our Intensive Outpatient Program, either way, we’re here to help you.